And yet, most college football observers believe there is a significant gap between the Irish and their opponent on Saturday, No. 2 Ohio State — or at least the 17-point spread would seem to suggest as much.
So are the bettors right? Or does Notre Dame have a fighting chance?
Notre Dame vs. Ohio State preview
RJ Young and Geoff Schwartz break down Saturday’s big matchup between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Can Notre Dame stop the high-powered Buckeyes?
The Buckeyes return 12 starters from last year’s squad, including three Heisman Trophy candidates — quarterback CJ Stroud (+225 via FOX Bet), receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (+3000) and running back TreVeyon Henderson (+4000).
Ohio State led the nation last season in scoring offense (45.7 PPG), total offense (561.2 YPG) and yards per play (7.96). That’s a tall task for the Irish.
“They’re going to have to play good defense,” Schwartz said. “It’s the simplest way to put it. I know Ohio State had a bunch of wide receivers that went to the NFL, but guess what? They have more wide receivers on their roster, [that are] going to the NFL.”
And Schwartz said Ohio State’s offensive line will be capable of paving the way for all those playmakers.
“They have an offensive line that’s a little underwhelming at times for my like, but they’re very athletic,” he said. “They’re always athletic, they always move guys off the ball. They have great running backs. So to me it’s ‘can you keep Ohio State under 35 points?’ Because I’m not quite sure Notre Dame can score 35 points.”
This brings us to our next question.
Can the Irish offense keep up?
It’s fair to ask if Notre Dame is capable of dropping 35 on the Ohio State defense, but to be fair the Irish did average 35.2 PPG last season, topping the 35-point mark for just the second time in the last 16 seasons. They finished the season strong, too, averaging 45 PPG over their last three games.
A lot of that was due to the play of quarterback Jack Coan (3,150 passing yards, 25 touchdowns), however, and Coan is gone. Stepping in will be Buchner, who has just 36 career pass attempts.
Couple that with an expectation that the Buckeyes’ defense will be improved this season, and Schwartz thinks that spells trouble for Notre Dame.
“I know Ohio State’s defense at times gets suspect,” he said. “But they have a brand new defense, new defensive coordinator. They’re going to (show more looks). We saw them lose to Oregon last year — they were just static on defense. Oregon knew what they were going to do. [That’s] no longer going to happen with Jim Knowles. They’re going to have a different flavor on defense. [They’re] always going to be able to rush the passer. So for me, it’s about can Notre Dame score 35 points as well? I’m not sure.”
Will Marcus Freeman be ready for his first big game?
After Brian Kelly left Notre Dame to take the head coach position at LSU, Freeman, the defensive coordinator at the time, stepped up and coached the Irish in the Fiesta Bowl last season, a 37-35 loss to Oklahoma State.
Now, it’s his show all the way. Not only is it a heavy burden, but it’s coming against his alma mater — Freeman was a linebacker at Ohio State from 2006-08. Will he be ready for his first big test? Schwartz wondered why more people aren’t at least pondering the question.
“There seems to be no question about Marcus Freeman. I don’t know why not,” Schwartz said. “I know he coached the bowl game, but this is his first time having an entire program to himself, an entire offseason, game-planning for Ohio State. So for me, there are some question marks there.”
Also in the episode, Young and Schwartz break down No. 11 Oregon vs. No. 3 Georgia, No. 23 Cincinnati at No. 19 Arkansas, No. 7 Utah at Florida and Thursday’s Penn State–Purdue matchup (8 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app).
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